In Kaufman and Hart’s 1939 comedy “The Man Who Came to Dinner”, Sheridan Whiteside came to dinner at the Stanley household in Ohio and through circumstances did not leave. The mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) ranging through our yard in search of food seem to similarly have taken up permanent residence.
Our “yard”, surrounded by pastures, is intermediate wheat grass which we keep mowed (more or less). Recent fall rains have turned the grass into a lush deer buffet. Two mule deer bucks (one older and one younger) and four does have been a constant presence for the last week. They are not disturbed by the motion and lights throughout the house nor does our normal movement outdoors bother them. The deer are alert to us yet do not move off. At night they bed down near the house. During the day, when not feeding, the mule deer sit and chew their cud. We do not feed them and simply “ignore” their presence.
In the winter the main food of mule deer is browse (the growing tips of trees and shrubs). Summer find these ruminants eating more grass and forbs. As ruminants, mule deer have four stomachs. When feeding they chew only enough to swallow. Later the deer regurgitate the food from the first stomach, re-chew it more thoroughly (the cud) and swallow the food again whence it enters the second stomach and the process of digestion begins.
Mule deer have large ears that move constantly and independently like the ears of mules, hence their common name.
Each year the male mule deer sheds his antlers and grows a new pair. Female mule deer do not have antlers. While each year the antlers tend to grow in mass and diameter and older bucks tend to have more points, antler size and number of points are not a reliable indicator of age. Antler size and conformation also corresponds to nutrition. A mule deer has its adult antlers at about 4 or 5 years of age, however, the size and weight under favorable conditions will continue to increase each year until about the age of 10. Does tend to select dominant bucks with large antlers as mates.
This mule deer buck is sitting right outside our kitchen window about two feet away from the back deck (Modoc County CA). Leonard and I love them, and unlike the unwelcome guest in “The Man Who Came to Dinner”, these guests may stay as long as they desire.